JOHN CORABI INTERVIEW:
December 17, 2012
We don’t need to tell Sleaze Roxx readers who John Corabi is. We all know the guy from his time in Angora, The Scream, Motley Crue, Ratt and the band Union which also featured former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick. He has a new album out titled ‘Unplugged’ which, you guessed it, is unplugged. It features standards from his previous bands as well as five newly penned tracks. I never thought that Corabi would enter the ‘singer/songwriter’ arena, it’s not like he doesn’t write a great song, but these new tracks could open new doors for him. Corabi tells Sleaze Roxx, “I’m out there shaking as many hands as I can and kissing babies. I’m out there trying to make John Corabi a household name. I think I’m one of those artists that people might know the name but can’t put a face to it.” Currently Corabi’s record label is working fearlessly at getting him on rock radio and though he isn’t done ‘working’ the ‘Unplugged’ album as of yet he has started to write for a next album. I wouldn’t expect a new album too soon however as Corabi tells Sleaze Roxx, “I can tell you that I’ve already started to write and record for the next album. I’m still promoting this album and once it begins to die down then I’ll get this thing motorin’ again.” Check out our lengthy no holds barred Q&A with John Corabi and don’t forget to pick up his excellent solo debut album simply titled ‘Unplugged.’
Sleaze Roxx: What took so long for a John Corabi solo effort, and why an acoustic album rather than a loud in-your-face electric effort?
John Corabi: I’ve been asked this a lot. I can honestly say that every song that I written from The Scream to Motley Crue to Union has started on an acoustic guitar. I still do that. I have acoustic guitars all over my house. I’ll be sitting at home watching TV and I’ll start working on riffs and ideas. I’ll get a song to the point where I think it’s got some cool chords, a great melody and a lyric idea, then I take it to the bad and we’ll work on it together. One of the other reasons I did the record is that I’ve always wanted to do a full blown acoustic record. I thought I’d try it put it out there and see what happens.
Years ago when I did The Scream album I was blessed to have had it produced by a guy like Eddie Kramer. When we were doing pre-production for ‘Let It Scream’ Eddie was also doing pre-production with Peter Frampton and Steve Marriot because they were thinking of putting Humble Pie back together. Steve and Peter would come to the studio and listen to some of our music. Steve said to me, “If you can sit down, play a song, and entertain people — then you’re got a good song.” So doing an acoustic album has always been floating around in my head. All the records that I’ve done in the past have always had at least two songs that were acoustic. I know it’s a roll of the dice. I’m putting all my chips all in and want people to hear this great band that we’ve put together. I wanted everyone to hear the new songs and the older songs in their simplest forms — you can hear the lyrics and you can really hear the melodies.
It’s weird because I just got back from Europe and people are like, ‘all these years I thought you were singing this and now I can totally hear and understand what you’re singing on Hooligan’s Holiday.’ It’s a combination of a lot of things so I figured I’d give it a shot.
Sleaze Roxx: I wasn’t sold on the acoustic version of “Hooligan’s Holiday” at first, but it’s grown on me since I reviewed the album. I think it was hard for me to swallow that without the loud guitars, booming bass and huge drums behind it.
John Corabi: It’s weird because that version that’s on the acoustic record — over the course of the past year and a half I’ve been doing a lot of acoustic shows. I’m sitting here scratching my head going ‘how am I going to pull off Hooligan’s Holiday? How do I do that?’ It’s funny because the main riff of the song is still there. If you look it up on YouTube from the first couple of times that I did it to the present time it just developed into the version that we put on the record.
It’s one of those things that the one song that people know you by you have to come up with something different. I’d do shows and people would be yelling, ‘Do Hooligan’s, come on do Hooligan’s. We want to hear it.’ We did that version and I think it came out cool and it is drastically different than the original. The response has been way more positive than negative.
Sleaze Roxx: At the time I wrote the review I said something like it would have been great to have had “Driftaway” replace “Hooligan’s Holiday.”
John Corabi: There’s a part in the acoustic show where I do a medley of “Driftaway” and “Home Sweet Home”. I do it live. I think “Loveshine” off the Motley Crue album gets the better response from everybody so I put that on the album. I think aside from the lack of drums and that it features more background vocals. The version of “Loveshine” on the record is pretty much true to form. I wanted to take something from the Motley Crue album and strip it down to its barest form and “Hooligan’s Holiday” was the big song from that record so I chose that one.
Sleaze Roxx: “Everything’s Alright” (Union), “Loveshine” (Motley Crue), and “Man In The Moon” (The Scream) are excellent.
John Corabi: I read a review from Europe that a guy loved “Hooligan’s” and he loved the whole record. His gripe was that he wasn’t crazy about the version I did for “Man In The Moon” because he was so used to the big drums coming in. It might have been a little too different for him. It is what it is, you know what I mean? It’s an acoustic record, it’s an unplugged record. I didn’t want to use any reverb, I just wanted to strip the songs down to their simplest forms — it’s all good.
Sleaze Roxx: I like what you did with the new version of “I Never Loved Her Anyway”, it’s got this ‘twangy’ rock meets Nashville vibe to it.
John Corabi: I do live in Nashville. It’s funny, the chords in the song… they are what they are. To be honest with you, back when The Scream did this song it was influence by Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-Yr-Aur.” It’s not really that it’s a country version, we just had a lot of fun with that. My guitar player used to be my bass player — he used to play in a rockabilly band tears ago, so he’s got a big grasp on rockabilly and some country stuff. We’re all rockers at heart. The lyrics are very tongue in cheek. I went for a light and uplifting approach with it and I think it sounds that way. It’s a very fun song.
Sleaze Roxx: This version of “I Never Loved Her Anyway” has a really loose, laid back vibe to it like you’re in a smoky bar listening to you guys knocking this one out.
John Corabi: We recorded it that way too. We sat around, played some rhythm guitars, put down some vocals — it was really meant to be light hearted and fun. I hope everybody enjoys it.
Sleaze Roxx: There was a gap of time between the disbandment of Union and the release of your first album. What’s the circumstance behind that?
John Corabi: I did The Scream and did the Motley Crue thing then afterwards, like you said, Bruce Kulick and I formed Union. It was weird man, I took some time off… call it frustration. I thought Union was a really good band. If you look at what we’ve all done since Union — I’ve played with Ratt, I’ve done some stuff in Europe with Eric Singer, I’ve played with Jerry Cantrell and now I’ve got a solo record out. Bruce Kulick has become a member of Grand Funk Railroad, he’s done solo records. Brent Fitz is playing drums in Slash’s band and Jaime Hunting has been playing with Roger Daltrey. The talent was there. American radio and MTV — once they get it in their head that you’re over or the next big thing has come along, they think you’re irrelevant to people. It really makes things difficult to get people to come see you in clubs, theaters, or festivals. It’s like pulling teeth to get radio stations to play your music. There’s no one there to do interviews with you or to help you with your craft.
I got frustrated for a little while, that’s when I decided I’d go do the Ratt gig. I could still be involved in music, I could play music and I could go out and tour. I didn’t have to worry about ticket sales, albums sales, t-shirt sales and all that kind of stuff. The time in Ratt was a bit of a mental break for me. I had a great time in Ratt — I was there for about 7-8 years. Ultimately I’m a singer — I want to get out, I want to play, and write music. I love being in the studio. I just had to get myself into the mindset that regardless of what happens I just have to be able to write music and record music.
All the bands that were huge in the ’80s, most of them people in America just don’t give a shit about, so they’re done. Then you have bands that were huge in the ’90s that people don’t care about either. We go through these musical phases. It’s just weird to me — I just don’t understand that way of thinking. So this new thing has come in so that makes everything else irrelevant? I just don’t get it. Ultimately this is what I like doing so I hoped for the best and here I am with a solo record. I’m moving forward, this is what I love doing so why would I stop doing it?
Sleaze Roxx: I love your honesty John. It’s refreshing.
John Corabi: You know what dude, it’s funny if you read between the lines. I love when these bands get asked stuff like ’10 years ago you were playing in arenas and now you’re playing in clubs’, the stock answer is something like ‘oh, I like playing these venues because it’s very intimate and I can stand on stage and see people’s faces’. Whatever, I’ve used that line a million times! At the end of the day you’re just not selling enough tickets to play in an area, you know what I mean? (laughing) I’ve got to be honest, this is how the music business is, it’s always been that way. I have no reason to pull punches or sugar coat things. Do I like the way things are? Not necessarily, I get frustrated just like the guy that gets passed up for a promotion at a regular job. I can’t be anything but truthful about it, so whatever.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems to me that aside from “Hooligan’s Holiday” the rest of the songs are about chicks, is that accurate? Also with the new tracks you definitely fall into the singer songwriter category more so than I ever thought you would. Could you give us a run down on three of the new tracks starting with “If I Never Get To Say Goodbye”
John Corabi: A few years ago I had a manager in California who had a very crazy thing happen. He and his wife had spent the weekend together and they came home. There was a crazed guy there that shot my manger a few times and also shot and killed his wife. It was this crazy shocking thing that happened. When I do that song in my acoustic set I tell everybody that it’s not necessarily about a girl. If you listen to the lyrics, yeah I’m talking about a girl but the message is when you leave your house, whether it’s a wife, girlfriend, your kids or parents, you never know what the world’s plan is. If you think about all those people that were in the movie theater to see the Batman movie you never know what’s going to happen. These crazy people come in and do this crazy stuff and it affects everyone’s life. It’s not just the persons that were killed or injured it’s their families and loved ones. In short, before you leave the house tell your loved ones that you love them every day because you don’t know what the bigger picture is.
Sleaze Roxx: “Crash” is one that really hit home with me. Give us a rundown on that one.
John Corabi: That one is pretty simple, it’s about a girl I used to date. We’re still good friends — it’s about our relationship. She was much younger that I was, she didn’t know what she wanted at the time. We’d split up then we’d get back together again and then we’d split up. You get the idea. Everyone used to call me ‘Crabby’ and her name was Ashley so we took the two, meshed them together, and made ‘crash’. It’s a song about the whole going back and forth thing and realizing that we’re doing an unhealthy thing — its better just to let go.
Sleaze Roxx: What can you tell us about “If I Had a Dime?”
John Corabi: It’s kind of a made up thing. It’s a new song and I’ve been very happy 4-5 years of my life with the girl that I’m with now. I put myself in a headspace where I thought about some past relationships that I’ve had. It was one those things, I think it happens with a lot of relationships, when it comes to the end most people most people don’t realize it’s the end until it’s too late. They probably knew it sooner but didn’t do anything about it. It’s like what I was talking about earlier with the back and forth and back and forth. I wrote that one with my guitar player D.A. Karkos. I had the music, the melody, and the title. I also had the first line, “If I had a penny for every time she said goodbye I could buy me a mansion and I’d still have enough to get high.” He thought it was amazing so we wrote it and demoed it, I was trying to pitch that song to someone else but the more we listened to it the more we thought we should put it on the record. I play that in the acoustic set and it’s going over great.
Sleaze Roxx: You formed The Scream with Bruce Bouilete and John Alderete. Scott Travis was in the band briefly before Walt Woodward wasn’t he? Also how did you meet those guys? They came from a ‘different’ style of band in Racer X.
John Corabi: Right, Scott was in the band before Walt then he got the gig to do the Judas Priest gig. Obviously when that happened that set us back a little bit. We found Walt — unfortunately Walt passed away a couple of years ago, what a drummer he was. Walt came in and made those songs — he had a Bonham like feel to his playing. Scott is a brilliant drummer, he’s just unbelievable. Scott and I still talk. In fact we’ve been talking about doing something together in the future. I think Walt just has a looser feel, he owned those songs and I really do think things worked out for the best in the end.
I met those guys in Racer X when I was in band called Angora. We were playing the L.A. scene and we did a couple of shows opening for Racer X. They were the bigger band, they had albums out and we didn’t. Angora was starting to pick up quite a bit of steam in L.A. We also had some mutual friends so I had met Bruce Bouilete and John Alderete several times. I knew Paul Gilbert, who had left to do the Mr. Big thing, and Jeff Martin left to play drums oddly enough with Badlands. I had a manager at the time who said, “I found out the Racer X guys are looking for a singer I think it would be great if you guys hooked up.” I said, “That would be cool.” I was a huge fan of Bruce, John and Scott so I gave it a try because I thought this was just a sick band. We started doing demos, then Scott left. It was weird because we had label interest even before we even played a gig. We got Walt, we taught him the songs, and we wound up doing some showcases for some record labels. We got a label almost immediately. So to answer your question, I met those guys by playing in the club circuit in L.A. — they were cordial and just all around nice guys.
Sleaze Roxx: Your album ‘Let It Scream’ is one hell of an album. There’s a song in particular that I’d like to ask you about. How did you wind up roping the late Ray Gillen to sing on “Love’s Got A Hold On Me?”
John Corabi: At the time that we started our record Jeff Martin was already with Badlands. It was funny, like I said earlier we started working with Eddie Kramer. Eddie was a novelty as well, everybody wanted to come and hang out with Eddie and listen to him tell stories about working with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and KISS back in the day. Once we started the record Jeff Martin and Ray would come by the studio almost daily. They’d walk in and 9 times out of 10 they’d walk in with a bottle of tequila and they’d disrupt everything — in a fun manner. They’d sit there with us and they’d crack open the bottle of tequila and say, “Okay guys it’s time to pay the toll!” (laughs) They’d sit on the couch and they’d start pouring shots and we’d start slamming shots of tequila. If you look at The Scream liners you see that we asked Jeff and Ray if they’d like to sing some backing vocals. Ray sang “Love’s Got A Hold On Me” with me. There’s a woman that came in, I can remember her name at the moment, and we started going back and forth with scats at the end of that song. We did another song “You’re All I Need” that they appeared on. There’s about three songs total that Ray and Jeff helped on. If you look at the original liners they’re referred as the ‘Woodlands Pay The Toll Choir.’ They changed the liners I believe each time that album was reissued. We went with ‘Woodland Pay The Toll Choir’ because we recorded it in Woodland Hills.
Sleaze Roxx: Moving on to the ‘Motley Crue’ album; Glenn Hughes sang background vocals on “Misunderstood”, how did he wind up on that and is he featured in other songs?
John Corabi: He basically just did “Misunderstood”. That was such a fluke. I’m a huge Deep Purple fan so when I first met Glenn I was probably in the band about three weeks. Glenn and his girlfriend came in and I didn’t recognize him right away. It’s common knowledge that in the past Glenn has had ‘substance’ issues. He had gone into rehab, cleaned himself up, and had gained some weight and cut his hair. I said, “Who is that English guy over there?” Tommy Lee said, “Dude, that’s Glenn Hughes!” I’m like, “What?!” I went over introduced myself. At one of the rehearsals Glenn and I started jamming to some blues and we became friends.
When we did the record we recorded it in Vancouver and we were doing overdubs and mixing it in L.A. Glenn found out that we were at A&M Studios and he decided to come by the studio. Bob Rock is also a huge Deep Purple fan and we’re all sitting around bullshitting when Bob said, “Would you guys be cool if we had Glenn do some vocals?” I said, “Yeah that would be awesome! I’d love that!” It just so happen that the reels were up and that was the song that was on at the time because Bob had been working on that particular song. Bob said, “Hey Glenn would you like to do some vocals?” Glenn said, “Yeah man, sure.” Bob said, “Well how about this one?” Glenn said, “Yeah great.” I swear to God dude if you know anything about recording at all — we were standing in the control room. Glenn went into the next room, the engineer set up a pair of headphones for him and a microphone, and he begins to test his vocals. Glenn said, “Alright run it down one time. Let me hear it.” So they play the song for him one time top to bottom and he’s sitting there with his eyes closed listening to the song. Glenn said, “Okay cool man, that’s great. I got it, awesome. Roll tape.” He went through the song ONE TIME! What you hear on the record is what he came up with off the top of his head!
Sleaze Roxx: Are you saying it was one take?
John Corabi: Dude, it was one… is this being taped?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah.
John Corabi: Okay cool. ONE FUCKING TAKE! I’m like “Holy shit, how? Are you fucking kidding me?” I could not believe that he had done this off the cuff and laid down this amazing vocal. We were sitting there looking at each other. Bob Rock was sitting there pissing himself laughing saying, “I can’t believe what just came out of this guy’s mouth!” I got a chance to record with one of my heroes as far as rock and roll goes but also one of my vocal heroes. I’m a huge Glenn Hughes fan. From a vocal standpoint Glenn Hughes is just a God. Ten days later we had Billy Preston come in a play a bunch of keyboards for us on a bunch of shit. I was in my glory hanging out doing this record. It was amazing.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re friendly with the guys in Motley Crue right? How do you maintain a relationship after suing them?
John Corabi: To be quite honest with you a lot of people don’t realize that Nikki Sixx and I did Brides Of Destruction after the lawsuit. Nikki and I would fuck with each other during the writing of the Brides Of Destruction record and we’d have a disagreement. Nikki would look at me and say, “What are you gonna do sue me?!” We’d do that back and forth jokingly. I would look at him and say, “Only if you give me reason to!” (laughs)
I know why I did it. I think Nikki knows why I did it, so does Tommy Lee and Mick Mars. We don’t talk a lot on the phone. If I saw any of those guys, including Vince Neil right now… Vince would say, “Hey buddy how are you doing let’s go have a beer.” We’d be fine. Nikki and I still have our moments when we get pissy with each other but we’re like brothers. I don’t agree with everything that he does and he doesn’t agree with everything that I do. You gotta do what’s right for you and they gotta do what’s right for them. I don’t have any ill will — nothing at all toward those guys. Mick and I, about three months ago, had a three hour conversation about life, ours kids, our girlfriends, our health and there was some stuff that I never had a chance to sit down with Mick and discuss at great length. I wanted to explain to him things related to my exit from the band so he knew. He totally understood what I said and why I did some of the things that I did. We’re fine. It’s funny, Mick just did an interview for a music magazine and he was asked what his favorite album that he’s recorded he said, “The one we did with John.” We’re fine. It’s not like we’re hanging out having dinner together, but we’re fine.